The Florida Supreme Court has issued an order seeking briefs on the issue of whether Florida should adopt the Federal summary judgment standard.
Earlier this year, I wrote about the case of Lopez v. Wilsonart, LLC. In that case, a semi truck driver was granted summary judgment based upon dashboard cam video evidence, which clearly showed that the semi was traveling safely in its lane until being impacted by the plaintiff’s vehicle.
The Fifth DCA nonetheless reversed the summary judgment. The Fifth DCA held that summary judgment was inappropriate because an eyewitness testified that the semi truck swerved before the collision. Even though the video was “compelling” and “directly contradictory” to the eyewitness’s testimony, the Fifth DCA held that the trial court incorrectly weighed the evidence by determining that the eyewitness’s testimony was not credible.
The Fifth DCA certified a question of great public importance to the Florida Supreme Court, asking whether Florida’s strict summary judgment standard should be modified in cases where objective video evidence clearly negates or refutes evidence in opposition to summary judgment.
The Florida Supreme Court has now issued an order accepting jurisdiction on the case. In addition to addressing the certified question, the Florida Supreme Court has also asked the parties to brief the question of whether Florida should adopt the Federal summary judgment standard as stated in Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986) and its progeny, and if so, whether the Florida rule of civil procedure governing summary judgment needs to be amended to reflect any change in the summary judgment standard.
Under a long line of cases beginning with Holl v. Talcott, 191 So. 2d 40 (Fla. 1966), Florida courts have repeatedly held that the party moving for summary judgment must conclusively show that the opposing party can not possibly prove its case at trial. Thus, summary judgment is unavailable if the record reflects the possibility of any genuine issue of material fact, or if the record raises even the slightest doubt that an issue might exist. This standard shifts the burden of proof to the party defending against a cause of action, requiring it to be able to completely negate the opposing case in order to obtain summary judgment.
Under the Federal summary judgment standard, on the other hand, the party with the burden of proof at trial must establish that there is sufficient evidence to create an issue for the jury on the party’s cause of action in order to survive a summary judgment motion. Until now, Florida’s courts have repeatedly rejected suggestions to adopt the Federal summary judgment standard.
The Florida Supreme Court’s order is certain to launch a flurry of amicus briefs on the issue, especially from the personal injury/insurance defense bar. Defense attorneys, businesses, and insurers have long advocated for adopting the Federal summary judgment standard in order to weed out cases with dubious proof of negligence, reduce litigation expenses, and conserve judicial resources. The Plaintiff’s bar, however, favors the current standard as it allows the jury to decide most negligence cases, and encourages settlement of claims.